Monday, June 1, 2009

Creating Jesus 12: The Glory of the Lord

Jesus was not conceived to be exalted to the status of any angel of any rank. He was conceived to be the Angel of the Lord who bore the Name YHWH. This conception did not stand alone. The YHWH Angel was read alongside the GLORY by the early Jews and Christians. There are a number of passages in Jewish scriptures which describe YHWH as a bodily manifested god. His manifestation is called in Hebrew "the KAVOD of YHWH" which literally means "the weightiness of YHWH." It was translated by the ancients into Greek with the word "DOKSA" which means "reputation, honor, glory." When it refers to one's external appearance, it means that it is a splendid or glorious appearance. In English it is translated "GLORY." This figure is described by Ezekiel as humanlike, radiant, and enthroned. It acts as YHWH, and he interacts with it as YHWH. This manifestation of YHWH, the KAVOD, is also called in the literature the "IMAGE" of God and the "FORM" of God.

Of course those of my readers who know the Christian literature will realize that this application to Jesus was made very early in the tradition. He has the NAME of YHWH, he is the FORM of YHWH, he is the IMAGE of YHWH, he is the GLORY of YHWH. He has not only been identified with the ANGEL YHWH, but also the KAVOD, identified with the seated figure in Ezekiel's vision and the YHWH of HOSTS seen by ISAIAH.

As I said in my last post on the subject, this is the key to understanding the development of early Christology. Once the identification was made between Jesus, the YHWH Angel, and the KAVOD, there was no turning back. The Christian Jews had begun to understand Jesus as equivalent with YHWH.

As far as worship, it appears that our earliest sources tell us that they were calling upon Jesus' NAME in intercessory ways, including healings. Now there is ample (and I mean ample) evidence in Jewish literature and magical objects from the period that show that there were Jews who were calling upon angels to intercede for them and to facilitate healings. The magical evidence from amulets and gems shows that the use of the angels' names were considered to be very powerful indeed.

Many scholars in the past have tried to explain away this evidence and to impose modern rabbinic and christian orthodoxy on the past in order to state that the Jews were not really venerating angels or practicising angel intercession because we all know they were monotheists. This is anachronistic and apologetic. The evidence both in the literature and the physical objects matches. The late second century rabbis generally disapproved and tried to stamp it out and write down their oral traditions in such a way that their ancestors would appear to be monotheists. But what the rabbis were doing was creating monotheism themselves, perhaps in response to the rise of Christianity from the Jewish sources, and I might add, the rise of Gnostic systems from these same sources which also relied upon the YHWH Angel and KAVOD traditions to develop the Demiurge.

In my opinion, the academic discussion is usually backwards. The discussion should not be how monotheistic Jews could or couldn't have worshiped Jesus.

The discussion should be along these lines: what must Judaism have looked like at the time of Jesus to allow his Jewish followers to conceive of him as YHWH and begin praying to him and using his NAME for intercession?

The impulse to divinize Jesus was an impulse within Judaism, and the later Rabbis knew this and reworked the traditions to try to shut it down and create a post-temple Judaism, which was a revival of the type of Judaism embraced by the group of post-exilic priests who put together the pentateuch and tried to rewrite their old polytheistic ancestral traditions along monotheistic lines. It didn't work in post-exilic Judaism mainly because the YHWH Angel and KAVOD traditions survived, allowing for exegetical interpretations to develop in which GOD remains hidden while he operates through his manifestation, his equivalent enthroned in heaven.

15 comments:

James F. McGrath said...

Ooh, I think you're going to like my book The Only True God when it comes out (not long now!). One of the points I make is that, while Christianity was solidifying and elaborating certain tendencies in the Jewish "monotheism" of the first century, Rabbinic Judaism was also "shutting down" (as you put it) some of the components of the "monotheism" of that same period.

David said...

Having read Philip Davies and friends, I am wondering how much monotheism was a development of the Persian/Hellenistic/Hasmonean period(s) and how much was determined by the rabbis in the creation of normative Judaism. Clearly the rabbis deleted traditions of which they disapproved (Enoch, for example) and relegated the priests to the sidelines. But can we really determine the sequence of the trajectory from polytheism to monotheism with any accuracy? Which pieces developed when?

April DeConick said...

James,

Looking forward to your book.

Geoff Hudson said...

Christianity is a flavian myth, based upon a mythical flavian Jesus. If you want the real history then you have to read the NT and the writings attributed to Josephus, between the lines.

Geoff Hudson said...

Discarding the ridiculous, and trying to get some historical order.

TonyTheProf said...

The development of the Wisdom tradition in the intertestamental period (which is very analogous to the Logos tradition, except Wisdom is conceived in feminine imagery), is certainly not what you would expect from strict monotheism.

Leon said...

I disagree with the idea that the impulse to divinize Jesus was an impulse within Judaism. I believe this is an imposition of ideas on ancient Judaism and it also represents ripping the idea of the Messiah out of its Jewish context.

I don't deny that ancient Jews practiced magic and the occult arts, and called upon the names of angels. But that is a far cry from making a man into a God. You are missing the Jewish context of all this. The two most important things about the Messiah were 1) the Messiah is just not that important, and 2) the Messiah, like any king, takes second place to the Constitution, the Torah. Nobody is more important than the Constitution. Not even Moses. The Constitution is the guarantee that the Jews will not be subjected to arbitrary rule. Constitutional reasoning is the protection. Even Moses has to acknowledge this, at least in Jewish tradition about Moses.

What Jesus' followers did (and Paul played a big role here) was to make the Messiah more important than the Constitution. Is that a Jewish thing to do? I suppose you could argue that this is a possibility in Judaism. But it is one that Pharisees and rabbis staunchly opposed. I suspect Jesus would have too. And going from there to making Jesus divine is another big step. But if you do not see the importance of the Constitution in ancient Jewish culture and how it puts the Messiah in second place, then you are missing a big piece of the picture.

Leon Zitzer

Jim Deardorff said...

A piece that's missing in all this is that the babe must have been named "Immanuel" at birth, and the writer of Matthew knew it. Otherwise, the birth could not have been the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, which the writer of Matthew insisted it had been. Yet he had to say his name was "Jesus," because that is what it had been for some decades before he wrote his Gospel.

Jews made the same argument, in the 2nd century, which Tertullian lamely tried to answer with the argument that "God is with us," or "was with us," many years before he became equated to YHWH or his son.

Therefore your argument that "Jesus" was born as the Angel of YHWH needs to be postponed a few decades until Paul initiated the name change from "Immanuel" to "Jesus."

Jim Deardorff said...

Sorry, I didn't get the argument right. One could say that God, or at least God's wisdom, was "with us" at the birth of Immanuel. But "YHWH saves (us from our sins)" didn't apply, if at all, until after Paul preached the message.

Geoff Hudson said...

Correction - after the inventor of Paul wrote his message.

Geoff Hudson said...

Theological dreaming.

TonyTheProf said...

Of course if you look as "Immanuel" as a title rather than a name, the contradiction is not so apparent. What is needed, then, is some context - how often (outside of Isaiah) was "Immanuel" used as a name, or as title, especially around the time of Jesus?

Jim Deardorff said...

Tony,

I'm not aware that any literature has survived to indicate the name "Immanuel" was used at all in the OT after Isaiah, or even up through the first century CE. I would presume that subsequent to Paul, some writings using the name "Immanuel" did appear, saying that had been his name; however these would have been allowed to wither away untranscribed after the name "Jesus" came to dominate. I am aware of a couple gnostic documents saying that his name had been something other than "Jesus."

Michael said...

April, thanks for these posts. I wonder if you might deal with the Son of Man traditions and how you see them intertwining with the Yahweh Angel traditions.

Servetus the Evangelical said...

There is nothing in the New Testament indicating that Jesus was, or possessed by, the angel of YHWH. Quite the contrary, the author of Hebres argues against any such thing. I think the angel of YHWH was an actual angel, the one whom YHWH sent to guard or discipline the nation of Israel in Exodus 23.20-23 and 32.34--33.2. This individual is not God himself, as many scholars claim, but someone other than God as these texts make clear. Daniel clearly further identifies this guardian angel of Israel as Michael the archangel in Daniel 10.21 and 12.1. See more about this in my new book, The Restitution of Jesus, now available only at my website at servetustheevangelical.com.